Guest post from my dad: 20,000 casualties later

Here’s my dad’s latest column for a Butte, MT rag, the Roun’Town Review, to be published in April. Reprinted without consultation or permission. You tell ’em, Pop! (Pop pictured here with Candy, back when she lived with Mom and Dad.)

20,000 Casualties later

Paul F. Vang

This last month we observed the third anniversary of our country’s invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t a celebration.

In the March 2003 issue of the Roun’Town Review I wrote about the then impending invasion. On the topic of “War in Iraq—Tragedy in the Making,” I wrote, “While war is imminent, I can’t help but think of President Bush’s fixation on war against Iraq as nothing short of insanity.”

Nothing I have heard, seen, or read in these last three years has changed my outlook on the situation. We went to war, supposedly, because of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction,Iraq’s ties to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and purchases of uranium from Niger. We never found weapons of mass destruction—and we certainly looked. The only thing we found was that U.N. weapons inspectors, who had to flee Iraq before the war began, were right when they said they couldn’t find anything, either. The supposed ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 proved false, and there was no Iraqi purchase of uranium in Niger. The exposé of that fiction led to the illegal uncovering of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

When the causus belli couldn’t be proved, the President reinvented the basis for war. We were bringing democracy to the Middle East. We wanted to get rid of their dictator. We got rid of their dictator and a show trial is one of the current side shows now playing in Baghdad. Have we brought democracy to Iraq? That’s a thornier question. There have been elections, which is good. Every day, however, the reports from Iraq tell us that the country is sinking further and further into all-out civil war.

In the meantime our soldiers and marines keep dying. The Administration would just as soon we wouldn’t dwell on such trivia and, in fact, raised a firestorm of anger against publications that published secretly-taken photos of a planeload of flag-draped coffins a couple years ago.

As of mid-March, over 2,300 American military personnel have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. In addition, 17,269 men and women have suffered wounds. To be specific, according to CNN tabulations, as of March 21, 2,316 Americans, 103 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, two Danes, two Dutch, 11 Spaniards, two Thai, and 18 Ukrainians have died in Iraq. This is a total of 2,521 Coalition deaths. The butcher bill continues to mount, even as the Administration cuts funding for Veteran’s hospitals.

As to the total death toll, only God knows. A couple months ago, the President estimated, when asked at a press conference, that there had been 30,000 Iraqi deaths. Bob Herbert of the New York Timesrecently cited a Foreign Affairs article estimating that the number of Iraqi deaths has reached six figures—meaning over 100,000, not including deaths caused by previous sanctions prior to our invasion.

From the perfect vision of hindsight, and the continuing revelations of events leading to war, we can look to an ever-growing list of mistakes made in the preparation and execution of the war plans. We went in with too small of a force to truly occupy the country and to make Iraq’s borders secure. When we occupied Baghdad we let mobs take over the city—except, naturally, the Oil Ministry building. We turned Saddam Hussein’s notorious prison at Abu Ghraib into our notorious prison. In rebuildingIraq’s infrastructure, the Administration gave sweetheart contracts to politically well-connected contractors rather than give Iraqis a chance to participate. There was, and is, no exit strategy.

In spite of the ever-growing list of problems, President Bush continues to live in his self-delusional world where he thinks we’re winning in Iraq. In his March 21 news conference he said, “I’m confident, I believe, I’m optimistic we’ll succeed—if not, I’d pull our troops out.”

At the same time, we’re building major U.S. military bases that signal Bush’s intention and commitment to continue our occupation of Iraq indefinitely. Kellogg, Brown and Root, the construction company subsidiary of Halliburton, Vice President Cheney’s old company is, naturally, a major contractor for building these bases. George Bush will leave the White House in January 2009—less than three years from now. Who knows how long it will be before American sons and daughters stop dying in support of Bush’s misguided war and we finally bring our troops home?

From my perspective here in peaceful western Montana, I see no reason to be optimistic aboutIraq. An army of occupation will never be loved. We may be grudgingly tolerated in the best of situations, but according to recent opinion polls in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqis consider our invasion and occupation of their country as their biggest problem, and that outlook is not likely to get better. They’re glad we took out Saddam Hussein but that’s as far as it goes. After all, if there have been 100,000 deaths among Iraq citizens, the chances are that just about every family in that country has lost someone in the process. Whether that death occurred because of U.S. military action or sectarian violence, the chances are that the family will say, “It’s all America’s fault.”

It’s no longer a war on terrorism. We’re just trying to survive the war of insurrection. Our troops hunker down in their secure enclaves between excursions into civilian territory where they become targets of opportunity from varying factions of Iraqis. If there’s any logical conclusion to this conflict it’ll likely be when Shiite Muslims achieve control of the country, proclaim an Islamist Republic, and become allied with that other member of Bush’s so-called “Axis of Evil,” Iran.

In Afghanistan, the battlefield from which Bush diverted troops to start his invasion of Iraq, violence continues to increase. General Michael Maples, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, testified to Congress that the Taliban, the gang that sheltered Osama Bin Laden in 2001, is making a comeback, and presents “a greater threat to the Afghan central government’s authority than at any point since late 2001.”

While Bush, Cheney and their minions continue to defend their war and question their critics’ patriotism, it’s a losing proposition. Militarily, there’s all too much resemblance to Vietnam, our disastrous war of the 20th Century. From a political standpoint, Bush’s approval rating in opinion polls continues to sink. Even conservative commentators are distancing themselves from Bush, as we learn more about the basic lies about the basis for war, and the strategic mistakes that were made in planning and executing the war.

In the meantime, we continue to soak Iraq’s deserts with American blood.